Still needed after all these years

This morning I listened to a voicemail on the Portland PFLAG phone line. The caller was a woman in tears, most distressed at having realized she is a lesbian. “This morning” is June 6, 2019. I make note of the date because this distressed phone call seems more like a reaction from decades ago.

The Portland Pride parade is a week away. At PFLAG, we are having back-and-forth email exchanges about who is staffing the booth when, do we have enough PFLAG Loves Me stickers to lovingly sticker every person who attends the parade and festival? I also sing in the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. Every year, I face the dilemma – which contingent do I parade with?

Long lost in my history is the visceral memory of when this dilemma did not exist. There were no contingents, just a general mass of people marching in the street with signs seeking visibility, social safety, and some level of legal protection. This parade was not yet a parade, with joyful spectators lining the streets. It was a protest march, unpublicized and taking the general public unaware every year.

Had this woman called for support at that time, pretty much anyone would have understood the angst she was going through. Coming out and coming to feel okay about your identity was a difficult process at a time when there were no positive mainstream representations of any form of acronym-based identity.

And – does that mean it isn’t difficult today? This voicemail of June 6, 2019 says that it is. As a therapist, I understand that the pace of change is slowest at the family level. We will have equal protection laws on the books long before we can safely say that most families are completely fine when someone comes out with an acronym-based identity. Many families are more fine than they used to be, and  people are coming out at increasingly younger ages, but there is still a long way to go before we can say acronym-based identities are just as valid within US society as straight or cisgender identities.

Nevertheless, there is much to celebrate, and this is the focus of Pride in this day and age. With the upbeat tone of the Parade and the largely-positive media coverage, it can be easy to miss the fact that there are still people who need a great deal of support when they come out.

If this woman comes to Pride and sees nothing but smiles and laughter all around her, I hope she is able to make her way to the PFLAG booth where she will find the people who will give her the biggest hug she is able to receive on this day of celebration. Perhaps then she would be able to look back on Pride as a personal celebration, the anniversary of receiving her first congratulatory hug for saying out loud, “I am a lesbian.” And her first PFLAG Loves Me sticker.

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